Digital trends to watch in 2019
 
Digital trends to watch in 2019
07 NOVEMBER 2018 2:00 PM

There’s been a massive shift in guest behavior and booking habits due to trends like artificial intelligence and mobile usage. But the question isn’t whether these trends are important; the real question is are you ready to make these trends work for you?

Every year around this time, it’s worthwhile to look at where we are right now and where we’re likely to be down the road. Despite the hype around several trends—I’m looking at you, blockchain—only a few pass the “smell test” as playing a big role in 2019.

So, what are the core trends that you’ll want to watch in 2019? Here’s my list:

Mobile takes center stage
Mobile is a big deal. Huge, really. In fact, it’s so central to your guests’ day-to-day lives that it’s barely worth calling a trend any longer. Mobile internet activity exceeded desktop internet use over two years ago, in October 2016. Mobile traffic now accounts for more than 60% of all internet use, according to Stone Temple Consulting. And while most hotels aren’t seeing quite that same level of mobile traffic yet, they often see 35% to 40% or more of their total traffic coming from guests on mobile devices.

The challenge for many hotels is that it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Mobile guests typically convert at much lower rates, choose to make their reservation via the phone, or turn to online travel agencies and their mobile apps for mobile reservations. And, as a result, investment has lagged for many hotel companies.

But there’s a huge danger lurking here. Assuming average conversion rates of 2% on desktop and 0.7% on mobile, you risk losing roughly 13 reservations for every thousand sessions that shift to mobile. Those numbers add up quickly. And even if every one of these chooses to call your property, that’s still a healthy increase in guest acquisition costs—to say nothing of the added work needed to track your marketing effectiveness.

It’s critical you work with your digital team and your internet booking engine (IBE) provider to improve usability on mobile, drive increased conversion and implement call-tracking for voice channels. Mobile will increasingly play a key role in your digital marketing effectiveness. It’s long past time to treat it as a cornerstone of your business.

Content continues as king
Content is, was, and always shall be king online. Content is so important to guests throughout their journey that I dedicated my entire last column to it—and still feel it’s worth bringing up again.

The point is that guests have questions all throughout their decision-making process: where to travel, what to do when they get there, where to eat, how much to spend. OTAs and intermediaries such as Google have invested heavily in creating and highlighting content. And the recent trend toward “experiences” among intermediaries and brand plays such as Marriott’s new “Moments” initiative underscore the need to create and promote great content for guests at every stage of their journey.

AI lives up to the hype
Obviously, technology continues to play a key role in our industry, and it’s important for you to pay attention to how it will change things in the near future. Yes, I am the guy who said that “digital isn’t about technology.” And it’s not. But that doesn’t mean we can stick our heads in the sand and completely ignore how some technologies are shaping customer behavior—and how they shape our business over time. It’s equally important that we recognize that in hospitality, tech and experience go hand in hand.

One major technological innovation that is already shaping guest experience is artificial intelligence (AI). You’ve undoubtedly heard lots about AI over the last couple of years. And even with all the press the technology has received, the reality is even more dramatic, even though the most impactful changes have happened behind the scenes for most hotels. Already Google uses AI as a core component of its search algorithm. Facebook also uses AI to at least partly determine the content its users see on their newsfeeds. Booking.com and Expedia are also testing AI within their products to help guests find the information they want more easily.

How can you get started? For starters, keep in mind that AI relies on data to learn. The most important thing you can do is begin making your data accessible to tools for improved analysis. Google’s BigQuery ML, Amazon AWS, and other platform providers offer solutions to develop and deploy data lakes that your technology team can leverage for relatively low cost to learn more about your guests and what they need. Additionally, expect to see commercial offerings from hospitality technology vendors that incorporate AI into their products. AI is here, it’s real, and it’s going to change hospitality in ways we’ve only just begun to see.

Voice emerges as a player
One place AI has undoubtedly made inroads already is in speech recognition. Which is just one reason why voice has emerged as a contributor in the digital ecosystem and will play an even bigger role next year. Whether we’re talking about voice on mobile or dedicated devices—so-called “smart speakers,” such as an Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod—it’s poised to become a key contributor for many hotels.

Google receives around 60% of all searches from mobile today, and at least 20% of those searches—or roughly 12% of total search volume—comes from voice. That’s in addition to the approximately one in five Americans who own a smart speaker. It’s likely that between 10% and 20% of potential guests interact with voice daily today, which, while very much in the “early adopter” phase, still represents a healthy chunk of travelers.

Of course, whether guests use voice to get answers from Google’s voice search or respond to commands from Alexa, voice depends heavily on quality content. You must have content that answers those questions and responds to those commands. Additionally, work with your vendors to include special markup (called schemas) in your content. Begin to think about the questions you want to answer for your guests. And get ready for conversational commerce to drive revenues for your property.

Guest experience remains key
Of course, if there’s one trend that dominates all others, it’s the need to create great guest experiences. Because your guests create content, too. They share their experiences on Facebook and Instagram with the people most important in their lives. They carry mobile devices that let them instantly type, text and take photos and videos that tell a compelling story about your property. And, as already mentioned, those social sites’ AI-driven algorithms help put that content in front of exactly the right audience. Your guests are telling a story about your brand, every single day. And, if they’re not, what does that say about their loyalty to your brand? Everyone in the industry wants to drive direct bookings. Why not do the one thing guaranteed to get guests to help you do that?

Conclusion
I recognize there may be some items missing from this list. What about blockchain? 5G? Personalization? These tools, and more, may start to move to the fore in 2019. But it’s undoubtedly true that we’re already seeing massive shifts in guest behavior and booking opportunity due to mobile, content, AI, voice, and guest-focused experiences. These trends matter. They’re what’s driving business forward for hotel companies all around the globe. The question isn’t whether these trends are important. The real question is are you ready to make these trends work for you?

Tim Peter helps hotels and resorts put digital to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs designed to increase sales and revenues. An expert in e-commerce, digital strategy, and marketing execution, Tim focuses on influencing customer behavior and delivering business results for companies worldwide. Prior to founding hospitality digital marketing strategy consulting firm Tim Peter & Associates in 2011, Tim led the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm in using digital to help hotels and resorts around the globe drive billions of dollars in revenue. He can be reached at timpeter.com/hotelmarketing or tim@timpeter.com

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